When the Texas heat is blaring, there’s nothing better than diving into a cool, blue swimming hole – and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Balmorhea. At first look, this way-out-west Texas town may seem like a barren desert, it’s actually full of surprises. Explore the town and you might just find exotic fish, gourmet gas stations and legendary gangsters. To download this episode or purchase it on DVD, CLICK HERE.
Hiking through a dry desert in the Texas heat will make you long for some clear, fresh water, and luckily among the Balmorhea cactus and rocks exists a natural spring: San Solomon Springs in Balmorhea State Park. A chilling 72 degrees, this spring is sure to cool off any day in the sun. You can also perfect your cannon ball and belly-flop on the 300 ft. high diving board (that’s just an estimate BTW!). While you’re splashing around, be sure and say “hello” to the Comanche Springs Pupfish. This stripped wonder can only be found in San Solomon Springs’ natural blue waters. If you are looking for a way to get up close and personal with the Pupfish and her neighbors, make sure to bring your snorkel. Or you can head across the street to the Toyahvale Desert Oasis where Darryl and Neta will lend you all the SCUBA essentials. While swimming under the peaceful waters of the spring, don’t be surprised if a Texas Spiny Softshell Turtle waves at you as he jets by. If you’re still feeling parched, you can wade in the waters of Lake Balmorhea, a lake in the middle of the desert with the Davis Mountains for a backdrop. You might just find time slows down as you lay out on the dock admiring the beauty of Texas.
Balmorhea is more than just its beautiful water, it is also home to the famous “Balmorhea Blue” Agate as the whole area was once covered with volcanoes leaving these exotic rocks scattered across the ground. Just like a Tex-ified Easter egg hunt, you can go rock hunting and gather up as many as you can hold. Just a tip….be sure to grab a pro rock hunter like Sue from Balmorhea Rock Shop so you don’t end up with a bag full of worthless pebbles like I did… And definitely check out her shop while in town.
Just like its beautiful spring in the middle of the desert, Balmorhea is filled with history you might not expect. Many people find the secluded town the perfect hideaway, and this has been true for years. A few miles west of the town, you will come upon the remains of Phantom Lake Camp, a 1930′s tourist destination that once thrived on travelers looking for a place to stay. In 1933, one of these tourists was none other than Chicago gangster John Herbert Dillinger, who drove all the way to Texas to disappear after a string of robberies. Rumor has it, he may still be around… Outside of town, you’ll also find Calera Chapel, an old western mission established over 100 years ago. Built in honor of Father Nicolas Brocardus, the Calera Foundation has renovated this one-room church so it still serves the community today. This chapel is an amazing example of Texas faith.
While in town, you’ll discover that Balmorhea is actually a Mexican food paradise of your dreams. If you’re craving a quick fix, stop in at Juan Carrasco Mercantile for their historic homemade burritos, straight out of the refrigerator. The Green Chile burrito will burn your mouth, but it’s so good, you won’t miss your taste buds one bit. It’s also a gas station, so you can fill up more than just your stomach. If homemade West Texas Mexican food is what your heart desires, then try Cueva de Oso (or as the locals say “Bear Den”). They’ll serve you some delicious dinner just like your mama used to make - that is if your mama made enchilada sauce and tortillas from scratch. Don’t miss the “tacos a la parilla.”